Aid dor Congo Victims Of Torture Press Release
USAID's Victims of Torture Fund
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) works through its Victims of Torture Fund (VTF) to assist the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals, families, and community members who suffer from the physical and psychological effects of torture. VTF administers treatment programs in 23 countries worldwide and supports more than 120 local nongovernmental organizations (NGO) in the communities where survivors live.
VTF primarily supports programs that help heal the psychological and physical trauma caused by torture. Additionally, VTF recognizes that communities, along with survivors, need to heal and recover. To this end, VTF supports programs that affirm the dignity of the survivors by restoring their positions as functioning and contributing members of their families and communities. VTF also recognizes that restoring the dignity of those affected by torture involves strategies that help societies understand the consequences of torture. Through awareness and other meaningful activities, civil society can play an important role in protecting individuals against future acts of torture. VTF works through NGOs overseas that (1) provide direct services to torture-affected survivors, their families, and communities; (2) train individuals to treat and help restore the functioning of those affected by torture; and (3) increase the level of knowledge and understanding about the effectiveness of treatment and rehabilitation methods.
Treating Survivors of Torture and Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
USAID's Victims of Torture Fund is addressing the issue of gender-based violence as torture in the provinces of the east through grants that cover the geographical areas of North and South Kivu, Maniema, and Ituri. Though this project, VTF is addressing one of the most hidden yet traumatizing acts of torture perpetrated against women, especially during periods of conflict and unrest.
In Maniema and Ituri, USAID works with Cooperazione Internationale and its Congolese partner, Centre d'Intervention Psychosociale, to help survivors heal and return to their communities. Door-to-door outreach, group counseling, and community mediation are hallmarks of their comprehensive approach. Since 2001, USAID has contributed more than $6 million to this program. And in FY 2008, the program reached close to 9,500 beneficiaries by means of medical treatment, psychological and social support, and vocational training.
The project follows a multi-layered approach, beginning with broad community-wide campaigns. Traveling door-to-door and by hosting community forums, trained local workers-called Agents Vigilances -gain the confidence of the community and encourage victims to come forward for assistance. Following strict protocols of confidentiality, Agents Vigilances refer survivors to Agents Psychosocial who analyze needs and arrange for appropriate services.
Treatment for all survivors continues until symptoms are reduced-typically indicated by survivors' ability to discuss their experiences, and an interest in the future and in returning to normal tasks. At the same time, to facilitate this return to functioning, Agents Psychosocial and local workers mediate on behalf of survivors with families, officials, and other community members. Survivors are given access to services that strengthen their economic standing, and offer opportunities for involvement in community associations, job training, and micro-enterprise.
Community Members Trained to Assist Victims of Torture in Sierra Leone
Under its "Capacity Building for Foreign Treatment Centers" project, USAID's Victims of Torture Fund works with the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) to assist individuals who suffer from the physical and psychological effects of torture in Africa, Asia, the Near East, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Since 2000, the Agency has contributed more than $8 million to CVT to build the capacity of torture treatment centers worldwide to provide services to victims of torture and to conduct advocacy activities on their behalf.
Training for Local Providers
In Kono, Sierra Leone, one of CVT's project sites, the project trains community members to provide psychological support and treatment to fellow torture survivors and returning refugees. There, CVT pairs skilled professional psychologists and clinical social workers trained in the field of torture and trauma rehabilitation with counselor trainees from the community, many of whom were themselves refugees. Through modeling, coaching, clinical training, and close supervision, trainees become counselors capable of assisting their peers. Through an arrangement with the Milton Margai College in Freetown, they receive the equivalent of an Associates Degree or a Certificate of Counseling.
Group and Individual Counseling
After shadowing professional clinicians, counselors facilitate individual and small-group sessions to address survivors' mental health issues. More traumatized community members, who have a greater need to address problems in private, receive individual counseling. Groups are arranged by gender, age, and shared history. Sessions take place weekly for approximately ten weeks. Counselors conduct regular follow-ups one, three, six, and twelve months after treatment to monitor improvement.
Results from Beneficiaries
Some CVT clients speak of being better able to manage anger; others note improved relationships with spouses and children. "I used to be very stubborn and aggressive," notes one client, "but now I am able to control my temper as a result of CVT's intervention…."
Another beneficiary of the program remarks, "Before joining this group, I was frequently experiencing nightmares and bad dreams but after going through the sessions, I can say thanks to God because the symptoms are minimized…."
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